When I was fifteen, I used to cycle down to my local service station, three nights a week, to take the evening shift at the pumps. It was a great part time job: I earned some pocket money, I got to potter about motor cars and I got to learn a lot about them, and how to move them. I am certain that my parking skills today are rooted in those early experiences.

The job entailed serving petrol, checking fluid levels, checking air pressure if the forecourt was not too busy and dispensing and fitting things like indicator bulbs, wiper blades and that sort of thing. It was a Service Station, and we provided a service. Apart from No Smoking signs, there was little in the way of Health and Safety Paranoia, and nothing ever went wrong as long as you were sensible.

Fast forward to last week, and as I am having the tank on the Jeep filled in one of the so called service stations on the 311, I thought I would just check the windscreen washer bottle. My Jeep is serviced regularly, but I had not used it in a couple of weeks because of work activities away from home. So, I switched off and went to the front of the car.

“NOT ALLOWED!” shouts the fuel attendant. “Excuse me? This is a service station. I want to check my windscreen washer bottle..” “YOU CANNOT OPEN THE HOOD HERE!”

Not allowed, it seems, refers to the fuel companies’ prohibition of anyone opening a bonnet in a fuel station. If you want to check oil, water, or anything else, you need to finish refueling, pay, drive away from the pumps and then park outside the shop and start again.

Now I may be a bit old fashioned, less lazy perhaps, maybe a little more hands-on than most or possibly of a more practical nature, but it seems to me that if it takes a few minutes for someone to fill your tank, it is a good idea to carry out some checks rather than sitting in the car, on the phone with the engine running…

Apparently, not being allowed to look under the bonnet is in case the engine blows up whilst you are there. Like I said, when I was fifteen, and cars were not nearly as fail safe as they are now, and some dreadful examples of mechanical unsuitability were still allowed to drive around, I do not recollect a single instance of one spontaneously combusting and reducing a petrol station to melted scrap whilst the engine was not running and the bonnet open.

I have heard of explosions as a result of static from a telephone and a near-empty petrol tank causing a problem, and incredibly, of people getting out of their cars to refuel whilst still smoking cigarettes despite warning notices to the contrary, never mind a bit of common sense. But I have never seen anyone shouted at for being on the phone, leaving the engine running whilst they wandered off to Burger King or smoking near the pumps.

Health and Safety getting in the way of common sense? Looks like it to me.

Surely, if the common sense rules were actually adhered to, there would a three fold improvement generally: one is that cars would be better looked after, two is that we would all actually be a lot safer and three, the risk of being set on fire whilst buying sweets would be almost completely eradicated!

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Fraser Martin
Since his Mum fell off the pavement, having been told by her 20-month old son that the car passing the bus stop, was a Citroen, Fraser Martin has never really looked forward. Acknowledged amongst his peers as variously wise, encyclopedic, opinionated, something of a sage and quickly becoming a curmudgeon, Fraser has been in and around the motor industry for the better part of 45 years, if you include pumping petrol, selling, writing about, podcasting on, testing, organizing events for and driving, anything with two wheels or more. Based in Dubai, which has been his home for the last 30-odd years and where he is Clerk for the UAE National motor racing scene, Fraser freelances only for grown up publications, is a bit choosy and is consequently much less well-off than he should be. He has only ever written about car related subjects because it is really the only thing he knows anything about, apart from making an excellent spicy green tomato chutney. Tragically, he knows more about the older cars of his youth, because he thinks they were interesting, and though he has driven many modern cars, some of them quite quickly, he finds the newer ones a bit dull. He spends far too much money on a collection of British 1:43 scale models of these same cars. Weird, huh?

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